One person's banter is another person's hell...

Grievances and disciplinaries in the workplace are often viewed as a negative experience for all those involved. Those dealing with the issue can feel like they are wading through treacle and can't do right for wrong. Those involved in the process report feeling anxious, vulnerable and disengaged, whether they were the ones who reported the incident or were under investigation.

I promise you, it doesn't have to be like this! Investigations (for a grievance, misconduct or criminal case) done swiftly, thoroughly and fairly alongside effective communication, should help resolve issues and ensure all parties move on from the incident. Someone skilled in this area, can often have those involved thanking them for their understanding - even when the outcome is disciplinary action.

It's my mission to help organisations achieve this so they can concentrate on growing their business.

Let's look at a real life example:


Sam* was a consistent top performer at a well-known scale up organisation and loved their job. They worked hard and had a great relationship with most of their colleagues. In part this led to them being too comfortable at work and they mucked around during down time. This became part of the culture within the team and the “banter” even included Sam's manager.

Ali* was on the same team as Sam and didn’t find the jokes funny - more immature and annoying. Sam would make jokes at things Ali said to clients on the phone and their Instagram poses. Whist Ali could take a joke, it started to feel personal and enough was enough. Ali went to Taylor*, the Head of HR with a list of complaints.

Taylor called Sam in and said Ali had made a complaint and explained the gist of it. As Taylor was snowed under with urgent deadlines a further meeting was arranged the following week so there would be enough time to properly deal with the matter.

This occurred in the same week that Sam had applied for a promotion but was told they would not be considered at that time, due to the outstanding bullying investigation.


Sam and Ali were left to awkwardly work as normal over the next week. Sam watched as teammates carried on with the joking and laughing, including Ali. Sam wondered why they had been singled out for things everyone was doing and felt like it was a witch hunt. This impacted their performance.

After having to move their meeting a couple of times, Taylor and Sam eventually sat down to discuss what had happened. Rather than being given an opportunity for Sam to give their side of the story, Taylor gave their opinion on what had happened and provided Sam with a warning letter straight after their meeting based on their behaviour.

Sam was furious. As far as they were concerned banter amongst the team was actively encouraged as a way of creating friendly competition. Management were present during all the interactions and not once challenged what was happening, but joined in. All the accusations levelled against Sam, had also involved others, and none of them were spoken to. Sam appealed the outcome. Follow up

Having not been told to keep it confidential, Sam spoke with his closet colleagues and they were incensed on Sam's behalf. This created a rough couple of weeks for Ali who handed their notice in as and they felt ostracised from the team.

Sam’s appeal was upheld and the result was changed to words of advice and team training arranged to set out for the whole team, standards of acceptable behaviour at work. Sam was also offered the promotion. Instead of accepting this, Sam handed in their notice as well due to the way the investigation was handled.

The end result was two employees leaving the organisation, both feeling totally disenchanted with the company. The team left behind was shocked at how they perceived people were treated and morale was impacted. Sales were down for a period due to the team morale and Sam, as their top performer, leaving a big hole. The company Glassdoor profile got some negative reviews and to top it off, money had to be spent on recruiting and training new people up.

This is not a great position for a scale-up business.

Key Takeaways

  • Ensure you create a culture which is appropriate for the workplace. Set out key points in policies and ensure this is communicated with employees throughout their employment lifecycle - onboarding, reward and reviews.

  • Train your management teams on how to deal with various situations - quite often managers could nip situations in the bud before they become a problem. Informal quiet words early on is far better than a situation escalating to the point of disciplinary action.

  • Not all HR professionals are specialists in this side of employee relations and rarely do they have the time and resource to manage these situations effectively - especially in a scale-up organisation. Sometimes outsourced support is needed.

  • Ensure you have a grievance and disciplinary policy and process in place. Think about how you will communicate with the various parties in these type of situations and plan ahead - before you have an issue! Having a process which involves best practice to follow will ensure you are kept on track and your people are not left disengaged.

If you are yet to get policies in place to ensure your employees know what's what in your business or need some guidance on investigations then get in touch with me - Kate Marston.

*names changed to protect the identity of the individuals involved.

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